My sister and I opened our Lego gifts and were delighted! What kid wouldn’t be excited to get a huge box of Lego pirates! After we’d opened the boxes, Mom told us she was not happy that all of the pirates were men and that she’d written Lego a letter and received a response back. “They actually do have lady pirates, they just hadn’t started making them yet.” She showed us a letter she had received on Lego corporate stationary. “They are sending us some lady pirates, but they won’t be here for a few days. You two are getting some of the first lady pirates.”
We did, indeed, receive the lady lego pirates and enjoyed the pirate lego set. In fact, we entered a Lego contest at the Kmart down the road and my sister won!!
This would certainly make a happy end to the story, but life is not a fairy tale and moments like these feed into what happens to us later in life. At the time, I did not know that I would eventually be getting a BS in Computer Science or that I would spend a lot of time questioning why I was one of 5 women in the BS program at my school.
After listening to presentations and reading research papers passed around the Vancouver Grace Hopper conference, the conclusion I reached is that, at least in the U.S., girls are trained and messaged away from math and science at a very young age. The message is that we don’t want to play with erector sets or to take apart our computers. According to the marketing, the only thing we’re supposed to want is an E-Z bake oven and a birthday party at the American girl store. Don’t mistake what I say as a 100% rejection of those things. I think it’s fine to learn how to bake or play with dolls. I do, however, reject the way it’s shoved down our throats as “what girls like to do.”
When I hear people say girls don’t stick around in math and science because they are not interested, I’d like to point them to the commercials that play on Saturday morning cartoons or to the faces they see on the boxes in the toy aisles. If you have kids, take a minute to look around the next time you are buying toys. You might find it eye-opening. Although I haven’t seen it, I hear the documentary “Miss Representation” deals with this topic.
I was prompted to write this post after reading Legos, Spaceships and Breasts by Kate Bachus. Kate appears to be a mom who shares some of the frustrations my own mother experienced years ago and so I decided it was time to share my family’s story. These types of choices and voiced frustrations reverberate long after the legos are put away.
I do think that there has been some progress although I feel extremely conflicted about some of the progress. While I understand on some level it’s good that lego is trying the “girl” lego thing (kind of like Barbie made a “Computer Engineer” Barbie), I also think it’s great that there are moms out there wanting to know why the girl legos aren’t better, and encouraging their kids not to care about whether their legos come from the pink aisle or the blue one. My mom gave me the same encouragement and this is part of the reason why MY MOM IS AWESOME.
(With the Barbie…does anybody seriously wear pink cat eye glasses or carry a pink laptop? I better change my vim color scheme to Flamingo or the Barbie police will arrest me.)